Reckoning the Ages
In my bookcase are two volumes titled The NEW Century Dictionary. The first copyright date is 1927 and the last is 1944. One would assume that each edition might have included new words that came into being from the first copyright date. Be that as it may, I suspect that those who published these books might have used words quite unlike those used today. Certainly, the authors would find the speech and vocabulary of today quite confusing. It would not be enough to say that the word gay no longer means happy. No, those writers of 1944 would find that new words exist and continue to appear with increasing regularity.
While our language is only a small measure of the changes in our world, the relationships we have had in the past in our families have faced changes that seem just as startling to me. When I became a grandparent, I suddenly remembered my own with a particular and poignant vividness. Oh, how I miss their simplicity and their love! I can only hope that my grandchildren can enjoy being grandchildren as much as we did in our day.
All of my grandparents were born in the early 1900s, and my in-laws and my own parents were born from 1910 to 1928. So their childhoods and upbringing were quite current with that two-volume dictionary. In fact, my grandparents,my parents, and in-laws saw World War II as well as the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Living through those days left an indelible impression upon all of my family. But that impression has only faded to the extent that my memory has lapsed because I still remember the stories and the admonitions to make do with what we had and not waste whatever we used.
My paternal grandmother taught me how to embroider and to make a cake using apple butter or jams from the cellar. Sugar was rationed during the time she was cooking most of her meals on the farm, and she had to make do with whatever she had to sweeten a special cake for her family. She also embroidered simple designs on all of her pillow cases so that anyone staying the night with the family thought that “Mrs. Astor” had no better place to sleep. She served cake, made a lovely bed, and fed her guests from her garden. She was not a pioneer woman, but her mother before her was the epitome of pioneer. Grandmother learned from one of the best. Great-grandmother used her husband’s tobacco sacks to piece together quilt tops that were made from leftover scraps of flour sacks. When she wasn’t having babies, she cared for the pigs and chickens and milked a cow. She churned her own butter and made pound cakes with real pounds of ingredients. And when she was not feeding the hired hands or relatives, she took off on her horse and delivered babies as a midwife.
The men in our family were good providers; the women made what they provided work to the last inch of usefulness. When I think about the examples set by my grandmothers, I realize that I am as different from them as the old dictionary is to the language of this day. We still serve our children and grandchildren and do our best to lead by example, but our world is changing so very quickly that the children may never understand what it means to grow their own food or sew their own clothes or even to provide a restful place for their families. My grandparents did these things as a matter of course—by default of the times in which they lived. Today I try to adapt my commitments to the grandchildren in much the same way as my grandparents adapted to their world—one word, on love at a time.